Let’s All Make Fun of Tom’s Brackets (2018 Edition)

It’s no secret that my grasp of March Madness slipped dramatically as I moved deeper and deeper into my 30s.  Even a quick glance at my 2011, 2013, 2016, or 2017 brackets reveals my descent into abject ignorance.

But hope springs eternal, and I have a surprising amount of unfounded confidence in this year’s effort.  I have to admit, although it’s obviously my bracket, even I was a bit surprised at how things shook out once I sat down and actually contemplated the match-ups.

Let’s take a look:


I have the first round basically going to form, except perhaps for naps taking out Cross-Fit, which some would consider a major upset.  As the tournament unfolds, I think the most notable results will be Yacht Rock edging Seinfeld after the latter survives a grueling battle with naps, Papa John’s triumphing over Culpepper Legal in what can only be described as a fight to the death, and Echo Dot knocking off George Washington (the president, not the giraffe, whom I have losing in the round of 32).

Speaking of which, I think GW has the hardest road to the Final Four, by far.  Not only is Echo Dot in the way, but, just to get to Echo Dot, Washington will likely have to take out both cheesecake and Bruno Mars.  That is just a brutal road to San Antonio.  Meanwhile, the Dot gets its date with GW via steamrolling the Third AmendmentCheetos, and prom.

Looking at the rest of the field, I also foresee some nice showings by magnetism and life-like puppets, both of which I believe will advance to the Sweet Sixteen.  On the other hand, I have New Year’s Eve tagged as the biggest disappointment of the entire tournament, with an early exit courtesy of scrappy upstart turducken.

Ultimately, I predict that the breakout star of the tournament will be Alexandra Daddario.  I have her in the Final Four, facing off against the Dot.  Partially on the strength of her recent showing at the Dior Addict Lacquer Plump event in Los Angeles, I think she goes all the way to the finals in the most impressive fashion before falling to champion Space Force (whom I see narrowly beating perennial title contender Yacht Rock in the other semi).

Although I don’t like to put too much stock in late-season performance (as opposed to overall “resume”), I just think you can’t ignore what Space Force has done down the stretch to come out of literally nowhere to make a huge splash on the national scene.

Maybe I’m a fool for going with Space Force over an entrant with a much, much better overall body of work, but so be it—that’s why they call it March Madness, fans!!!

Enjoy the games!

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How Not to Message Gun Control

Every mass shooting brings with it a familiar cycle: Politicians offer condolences, lefty gun-control advocates attack those politicians on a number of fronts for doing so, we talk (argue) about gun violence for a few days on social media, and, much to the astonishment of the aforementioned advocates, nothing ultimately happens.

Gun-control proponents have even become aware of this pattern.  A Facebook image I’ve seen a dozen times this week, shared mostly by my progressive friends, reflects recognition of this reality.  Yet, the people posting it still don’t understand why this cycle persists.

Many of those friends fall into the same set of tired traps that perpetually confound activists and politicians.  As someone who is moderate on the issue of gun control, and who has no extremely strong feelings either way, what frustrates me is how easy it would be to avoid these pitfalls.

And, yet, despite over a decade of circling back to the same tropes, liberals seem not to understand the direct link that connects this flawed messaging to the complete lack of any policy victories whatsoever.

At a certain point, they must be asking themselves, “How can we semi-routinely endure awful mass shootings in this country and use those to push our messaging, and, at the same time, not achieve any sort of policy wins?”

Why can’t liberals (or even non-liberal gun-control advocates) win on this issue?  It’s a great question.  And here are the answers:

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Phabula Rasa

My trusty Galaxy Note 4 had served me well for three years, but it was time for a change.

I wasn’t happy about it.  I’ve never had any interest in having the latest or coolest phone.  The fact that I’m brand-loyal to Samsung might have been a clue to that effect.  And the idea of standing in line to get a phone seems insane to me.

Plus, providers don’t cut the same deals to long-term customers they once did.  Remember “New Every Two?”  No more.  Upgrading to a new phone would require I absorb the full cost of a product that cost several hundred dollars.

Even my original move to the Note 4 wasn’t a hasty one.  The Note 4 was my very first “phablet” (half-phone, half-tablet, GET IT?!?) and the first phone I ever had that didn’t have a physical keypad.  Despite my initial reservations, I had been nothing but pleased with it.

As a phone, a streaming video device, an MP3 player, a web browser, or a repository for more semi-useful dating apps than I care to count, the Note 4 fulfilled its functions adequately or better.  But the unit had begun to slow down.  Just after Christmas, performance got markedly worse, to the point that the phone would freeze or randomly reboot.

I can put up with a lot for the sake of keeping an old device, but the phone was now more or less unusable.

I caught a break in that I happened to be visiting Richmond for the holidays when my phone was on its last legs.  My presence there allowed me to visit my mom’s local Verizon store on Broad Street, which has always had outstanding customer service.  The rep was extremely helpful as I explained the problem.

It quickly became apparent that nothing could be done to save the “patient,” and, thus, I resigned myself to ordering the most current version of the phone, the Galaxy Note 8.  I skipped the Galaxy Note 7 for obvious reasons, instead opting for a non-combustible model.

When I returned a couple of days later to pick up the new phone, the same rep assisted me.  The process was simple, but there was the usual setup of the new phone while simultaneously transferring over photos, app credentials, music, etc, from the old phone.  I wouldn’t be able to keep my old phone, either, due to a trade-in deal of which I was taking advantage.  Once the transfer happened, my old phone would be wiped forever and sent to be refurbished.

As the transfer was about to begin, the rep noted that the estimated time was two hours and 54 minutes.  Given the amount of data involved, this didn’t make sense.  He quickly realized that there was a specific culprit: A massive number of text messages.

About 35,000, in fact.

He theorized that the original slowdown problem was likely the result of having so many SMS messages.  Having the texting habits of a teenage girl certainly seemed like a reasonable explanation for why my phone would practically break after 36 months.

I tried to delete a bunch of older conversations, but my phone was so slow that even that took a few minutes.  When he checked the transfer estimate again, it had only dropped to about two hours and 50 minutes.

Then he reran the estimate, except with no texts.

The new estimate was 10 minutes.

Naturally, he asked me if I would have a problem with simply setting up the phone without retrieving any of my old text conversations.  Being a bit of a nostalgia-addled digital hoarder, I hesitated at first.  Then I thought more deeply about what it would mean.  And about getting my Galaxy Note 4 in 2015.  And getting my enV many moons ago.

I remembered the cleansing power of a new phone.

Three years.  Three years of conversations that went nowhere.  Of embarrassing or regrettable remarks.  Of women I wish I’d never met, all things considered.  Of plans that never materialized.  Of hopes that never came to fruition.

I realized that Verizon was doing me a favor by getting rid of those texts.  A new page.  A fresh start.  An end and a beginning.

A blessed opportunity to move on, move forward, and forget a few things I never needed to revisit.

Ten minutes later, I had my Note 8.  Pristine and unsullied.  Not so much as a fingerprint on it yet.

And I suddenly realized that the clean slate I had been afforded was not only welcome, but long overdue.

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Best of 2017

News flash: I’m not as prolific a blogger as I used to be.

The first couple of years of the Axis of Ego saw me post at least once a week.  Usually twice.  Sometimes more.

Those days are lonnnnnnng gone.  This is only my twelfth post of the entire year, and a few of those dozen were re-posts of older articles.  One of them was my “Best of 2016” post!

But there’s a helpful upside to my part-time status: Putting together the “Best of the Year” article is much, much easier.

Something Special: The Mountaintop (4/10): This was the final episode of the Something Special podcast series.  The series covered the 1991 Washington Redskins’ championship season.  It was a lot of work, some of it tedious, but, technical glitches aside, all of it enjoyable.

Let Me Tell You About Sundays (7/14): I like my job.  A lot.  In some ways, more than any job I’ve ever had.  This one explains why.  I feel fortunate and humbled to be able to write for a living—even if it did take me over a decade to get here.

Real Americans (8/14): “It’s the best thing you have ever written.  I am very proud.” – My mom.

Timely Movie Review: The Last Jedi (12/20): This is very recent, but I think it captures and crystallizes some of the problems that a lot of people seem to have with Episode VIII.  The more I’ve contemplated this movie, the less enamored I am with it.  I wrote this review within 24 hours of seeing The Last Jedi, so I may have been even more harsh had I written this a week later.

And that’s it!  There’s not much else to report for 2017.  I’ll try to do better in 2018, but I think I’ve said some version of that each of the past two years, only to publish significantly fewer pieces than I did the year before.  I suppose anyone who is actually a fan of this blog (heaven help you) should be rooting for my unemployment.

Happy New Year!

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Timely Movie Review: The Last Jedi

I’m proud to say that I made it to The Last Jedi spoiler-free.

But I did collect one bit of relevant information prior to seeing it.  I saw that the Rotten Tomatoes score was a strong 93%, with a robust sample size of over 300 reviews.  It was an even more impressive 96% with top critics.  What gave me pause, though, was that the audience score tracked 40 points below the critics’ score.  I had never heard of that kind of spread in that direction.

Once I saw Episode VIII, the deficit made perfect sense.

The Last Jedi feels at once too much and too little.  Laid out on paper, the number of elements Rian Johnson attempted to cram into this film seems excessive.  Episode VIII is the longest Star Wars film ever at a whopping two hours and 33 minutes, yet, at the same time, it also doesn’t seem long enough to flesh out all of the necessary components.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to like.  The battle sequences are good, although there was probably one too many (again, note that runtime).  The score, as always, was phenomenal.  I thought Luke’s story had the correct conclusion.  Mark Hamill played him with the right amount of cheekiness, mixed properly with the cynicism he’s acquired since we last knew him in Episode VI.  Luke has always been my favorite character, and I thought Hamill’s performance was pitch-perfect, despite the fact that Luke is excessively jaded at the outset, a curious choice with which Hamill himself sharply disagreed.

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Papa, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

In light of the recent comments of American hero and self-made millionaire John Schnatter, I thought it might be worth revisiting my once-debilitating obsession with his delectable cuisine. Enjoy!

The Axis of Ego

It’s safe to say that I’m a fat guy pizza aficionado.  Papa John’s is my favorite among the chain pizza “restaurants.”  In fact, placing a Sunday order to PJ’s is an almost-weekly ritual during football season.  Put simply, I’m a frequent customer.

Even if I had taken several days off from going to the gym, even if I had noticed a little more roundness in my face, even if I had eaten pizza at work earlier in the week, none of those fact patterns would have enough negative momentum to shame me into refraining from obtaining a pie (or two[1]) if the mood struck me.

That’s why it’s so remarkable that I recently found myself on to the Papa John’s website, my belly empty and my head full—full of mozzarella-covered visions of gluttony, that is—and wound up logging off in disgust without ordering anything.

What could cause such a strange—some…

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Flirting with the End of the World

With the passing of Stanislav Petrov, I thought it would be a good time to revisit his story.

I can say without exaggeration that Petrov saved the world in 1983.

The Axis of Ego

RussianEarlyWarningSystemIn my second run at a storytelling podcast, I thought I’d shift gears and shoot for something more historical than personal.

I tackle a crucial but probably underreported event that arguably affected just about every single person on the planet.

This is the story of the most important man in the world.

Chances are, you don’t know his name.

But you probably owe him a thank you.

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Real Americans

I’m not going to address this past weekend’s events specifically.  There are already hundreds of columns covering every aspect of what happened in Charlottesville (and what is happening, to a lesser extent, in Seattle and Richmond and elsewhere).

Instead, I’d like to refer back to something I wrote about a different terrorist attack a few years ago, this one not on American soil.  Toward the end of the piece, I discussed what makes our nation unique.  That’s the portion that’s relevant to our present conversation.

In the United States, although our record is obviously imperfect, propositions such as “anyone can become an American,” and “we’re a nation of immigrants” are woven into the fabric of our national identity.

It’s much tougher for someone to convince you to engage in anti-American activity when you feel you are, in every sense, an American . . .

When we speak of American Exceptionalism, those of us who still believe in such a concept point to E pluribus unum as an underpinning of that idea. The bargain is a simple one: An immigrant may become fully American in a way that he may never be able to become fully French or fully Russian or fully Dutch.

There really isn’t a catch, either, except that the new American accept our laws and certain very basic cultural norms. The paradox is that those cultural norms are based largely around individual freedom or self-determination, which means “embracing” them might mean only “live and let live.”

Do that, and everything our nation has to offer can become as available to the immigrant and children of immigrants as it is to me. I look—with pride—at a new citizen as every bit a “real” American as I am.

That is our magic.

That is what makes us great.

That is American Exceptionalism.

That is also why we must always preserve that value. It is the mechanism by which a nation of immigrants remains a nation, rather than a litany of bickering factions segregated by blood or holy book.

Every American must believe that this is our land. All of us. Whether we were born citizens or not. Whether we’ve been here for generations or months. Whether we worship the same god, a different god, or no god.

Everyone must remain invested in our nation’s culture and her well-being. The way to make sure this happens is to stress shared values and opportunity, not highlight differences in an attempt to divide us into aggrieved categories.

We’ve done a better job of that than Europe has, and I think our culture has benefited greatly as a result. I can only hope that we continue to do so. But protecting those values, like protecting most things that matter, will take work.

By every one of us.  Tirelessly.  In word and deed.

For the rest of our lives.

Emphasis mine.

I was writing then about our country’s ability to assimilate other cultures into the essence of America.  But recent events have highlighted the flipside of this proposition—something I didn’t discuss at length in 2013.

In order for all of this to work, there must be a willingness to agree to the “American idea.”  That means that those who are ostensibly already part of the fabric of our nation have to accept the idea upon which our society is built.  That’s the true American exceptionalism of which I spoke.

It isn’t merely the concept of “tolerance.”  That’s important.  But it is also the commitment to the idea that anyone who is willing to be a law-abiding member of our society is as fully a part of that society as any of us.

To reiterate: Every American must believe that this is our land.  All of us.  Whether we were born citizens or not.  Whether we’ve been here for generations or months.  Whether we worship the same god, a different god, or no god.

This is not merely the begrudging acceptance of a legal status.  This is the notion that it benefits us, and it makes our lives better, to ensure that all Americans, even ones who are not “like us,” are a part of this endeavor.

It does not mean we must all agree on any political issue.  Quite the contrary.  That, too, is part of our magic.  But we must be willing to resolve those differences through democratic means—including vigorous protest, so long as it remains peaceful.

But ideologies rooted in racial supremacy and/or violence are anathema to this grand idea.  Recall the one proviso I mentioned in 2013: There really isn’t a catch, either, except that the new American accept our laws and certain very basic cultural norms. The paradox is that those cultural norms are based largely around individual freedom or self-determination, which means “embracing” them might mean only “live and let live.”

The mistake I made then was not clarifying that this bargain doesn’t apply only to new Americans.

It applies to all of us.

Those who lack the courage to embrace the American idea because they are too afraid to let go of their “tribal” identity cannot become fully American.  Even if their family has been here for hundreds of years.  People who have only lawlessness and hatred and violence and fear-mongering to give to our society have no place in our society, whether they were born here or not.

I must confess that I pity them.  They are depriving themselves of the full, wondrous, unique experience of what it means to be American—an experience for which the soulless, insipidly narrow, anything-but-unique pursuit of ethnic superiority is no substitute.

The question now is are we willing to prevent these forces from undermining those who do accept the American idea?  (Hint: That effort doesn’t begin with punching anyone.)

We’re still a long way from becoming that cesspool of bickering, identity-obsessed factions about which I warned.

But we’re a bit closer than we were last week.

Nonetheless, I remain cautiously optimistic.  The United States is a land of 330 million people.  I am resolute in the belief that the clear majority, regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity, occupation, or religion, accepts the fundamental premise upon which the best version of America is based.  These are the Real Americans.

However, as I said before, protecting that beautiful premise will take work.  By every one of us.  In word and deed.  Tirelessly.  For the rest of our lives.

Let’s begin.

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Let Me Tell You About Sundays

Let me tell you about Sundays.

Sundays are terrific.  You can run errands or be lazy.  You can go to church or sleep in.  You can watch a game or read a book.  You can eat brunch or work out.  You can do nothing at all—or all of the above!

In case it isn’t obvious from that ringing endorsement, I like Sundays.  I don’t want anything else that I’m about to say make it seem like my love for Sundays is lacking.  I refuse to be pigeonholed as some kind of anti-Sunday zealot!

Disclaimers notwithstanding, I’ve always had a very particular problem with Sundays.  Ever since I was a little boy, Sundays—specifically, Sunday evenings—have been unfailingly accompanied by what might best be called . . . a mild sense of dread.

Whether when I was in school (even when I liked school) or when I was working (even when I liked my job), there was this tiny feeling of tension, invariably spawned when the shadows grew long and the sun began to disappear into the horizon.   The darkness was a signal that I would have to think about responsibilities again in a few, short hours.

Sometimes that feeling could properly be called “worry,” but not often.  Monday’s obstacles weren’t necessarily things I didn’t want to face.  Even when I relished those challenges, that Sunday-night feeling was still there.

Most of the time, it was merely the awareness of constraint.  Of a lack of freedom.  Or, at least, a lack of preference.  It was the knowledge that, come Monday morning, I would rather be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else.

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Father’s Day (Redux)

It was.

Hello, old friends!

Long time, no write.

Since it’s Father’s Day (and I’ve been incredibly delinquent in updating this site in recent months), I’m taking this opportunity to share a storytelling podcast I recorded last year.  The topic is my favorite Father’s Day, with a heavy side-order of Red Sox baseball.

It’s pretty good.  Enjoy.  And Happy Father’s Day.

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